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Program Director Introduction

Namaste Fellow Adventurers,

Welcome to the 2018 Eastern Himalaya Summer Program! In just over a month, you will arrive in-country and begin a sojourn that will change your life in unforeseen ways. This journey will present challenges and rewards far beyond your imagination. It is an exciting prospect and one that I’m sure you are all a bit nervous about. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave behind what is familiar and to venture out into the unknown. For that, you already have the respect of your instructors and the communities you will be living amongst and working with.

In this note, I want to introduce you to the Yak Board page and to share a bit about your summer and myself. As we get closer to the start of your program, I want to invite you all to introduce yourselves on the Yak Board and use it as a place to post any questions you have. You will soon discover that this page is a great way to share, connect and build enthusiasm for the adventure that lies ahead. It will also be used throughout your course to share your experience with loved ones back home. Your instructors will introduce themselves in the days to come, and important notices will be posted over the next weeks, so please begin the habit of checking your board regularly (you can subscribe to receive updates).

A little about me: An ecologist and an educator, I have been blessed to have work in most environments – from the desert to the sea – in the academic, private, non-government and government sectors. I have knowledge and experience in such fields as environmental conservation, international aid and development, forestry, sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, risk management and water resource development. Working with local and indigenous communities in Asia, Latin America, Australia and the US I have learned that the answers to questions like: what is edible? What counts as a bed? What is a national park? How to cure a stomach ache? What is happiness? Who to call in case of an emergency etc., all depend on where you are and who you’re with.

What I have also learned to do is to observe my surrounding, to mimic, to focus on the similarities rather than the differences, and to laugh… A lot. I admit that I have always been drawn to Eastern religion and philosophy for the emphasis placed on cultivating self-awareness and embodying virtuous emotions such as compassion, generosity and patience. Living in Asia on and off for the past 10 years has shaped my identity. And, among the many lessons that I have learned in my professional and personal life, perhaps the most potent has been learning to live in the present. Asia can demand your full attention in any given moment and challenge the ways in which you view yourself and the world.

You will all have experiences of intense presence, some that you might like to be forewarned of.  Past students have expressed an appreciation for, shall we say, a heads up! So, with that said, be prepared for the potentiality of the following:  dramatic changes in schedule, a lack of personal space, phases of too little or too much free time, being hungry, being intensely full, being more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, having to wait for transportation, being asked to do things you’re not totally psyched about, not having clean laundry, not having a toilet or having to use a dirty toilet, having to speak a different language, being laughed at, having sloppy diarrhea, once again, not having a toilet! Having to take a cold, bucket shower or having no shower (for days), hiking until your thighs burn and your lungs are ready to burst, eating unappetizing food, having to drop your expectations… and more than anything and perhaps implicit in all stated above, having to be uncomfortable and hopefully learning to extract a valuable lesson in being so!

However, you can also be prepared for the inevitability of the following: feeling your heart spontaneously open to virtual strangers, seeing more smiles in a day than you can count, experiencing acts of kindness and generosity from people who have seemingly nothing, being moved to tears and laughter unexpectedly, hearing words of insight and wisdom from respected members of the community, being accepted into a family as if you were their biological child, playing silly games with the most enthusiastic and curious kids you’ve ever met, holding farm animals, stuttering through a new language, being spellbound by chanting monks, learning new skills from your ISP mentor, feasting your eyes on high, snowy peaks, filling your belly with copious amounts of delicious homemade food, and meeting dreadlocked, ash covered yogis.

What lies ahead is hard to find words for. What is even more difficult is to be prepared for the journey. I imagine this note will find all of you at some stage of preparation. All I can say by way of advice goes beyond anything you can fit in your backpack. It’s important to start this sojourn with your loose ends tied up at home so that you can slip into the presence that awaits you. What I ask for you to all bring is an open heart and mind. Be ready to give up some control and let yourself flow. My role and that of your leaders is to provide a safe raft and a paddle to get you through the rapids.

Your instructors will be checking this Yak Board regularly, so again, this is the appropriate place to ask all of your pre-course questions. We look forward to hearing from all of you by way of an introduction.

I hope that this note finds you all healthy, happy and enjoying the summer.

In loving kindness,

Jessica Armstrong.

South Asia Program Director.

[email protected]